If you’re considering in-housing right now, I urge you to think carefully about whether it’s what you really need. As someone who’s owned production companies for over 10 years, I can tell you that while in-housing is great in theory, it definitely won’t solve all of your problems. Somewhere down the line, you’ll end up going back to external suppliers – the only questions are when, and to what extent. Why? Because it’s simply not possible to cover all the bases you need with an in-house model. Sooner or later you’ll be looking for specialist expertise – which is invariably in high demand, and almost always outsourced.
So then outsourcing is the answer, right? Not quite…
Because while outsourcing gets you access to best-in-class specialists, you’ll then need to manage multiple relationships and thread all these suppliers together, to create one cohesive campaign team. A process you’ll need to repeat on every project – making outsourcing a complex and time-consuming mind-fu*k to get right.
Instead, the secret to optimising content creation lies in a blend of both in-housing and outsourcing, and – more importantly – your ability to interchange between the two, from one project to the next.
By focusing on the ‘in’ versus ‘out’ – either / or – dichotomy, brands are missing the point. As a global business, the challenge you really need to crack, is the ability to articulate yourself to audiences in multiple markets – consistently, effectively, authentically and at scale – all to a high quality. In-housing or outsourcing alone will not fix this.
So, in comes the platform model – giving you access to freelancers in their thousands – making content cheaper and faster than before, at scale. There’s a huge buzz around this approach at the moment, with brands increasingly harnessing ‘platform power’ as a way of solving the in-housing vs outsourcing challenge. But I believe – as with ‘in-housing versus outsourcing’ – that there's also a reality to how far the platform model can get you, particularly when it comes to quality and consistency.
The majority of platform-based agencies rely too heavily on their technology as the ‘Thing’ that will solve all your problems. But while cracking issues of cost and reactivity at scale, you often create other problems – namely quality control and consistency – both absolutely crucial in the battle for eyeballs and click-throughs.
Time and again, I’ve heard the same story from multiple brands who find themselves able to efficiently funnel briefs to amazing creators all over the world, only to find that the work coming back from these geographically disparate teams is similarly disparate in style and quality. Why? Because there's no one in the middle that's owning quality control.
So while I believe, wholeheartedly, that platform-based agencies are the future – to the point where your platform will be as important as having a website – I don’t believe a platform alone is ‘the answer’. For brands to compete effectively in the global content arms race, the secret lies in having a trusted agency partner who can underpin the platform piece with core in-house creative strategy, ideation, creative direction and project management. Get this right, and you’ll unlock the true potential of the platform – enabling you to consistently deliver best-in-class content on a granular and global scale.
It’s an approach we’ve been using at &FRIENDS for some time now – ‘blending’ in-house creative direction and quality control with the ability to build bespoke ‘plug-and-play’ content teams in any market, via our proprietary platform. Onboarded into the brand – and trained in our codified and consistent ways of working – these teams are then simply switched ‘on’ or ‘off’ when needed.
It’s neither in-housing or outsourcing – but the best of both: what we call FlexSourcing. And this, for me, is a proper solution to the in-housing vs outsourcing debate – one that requires minimal investment and risk for brands – and the best chance of a success.
Very soon, ‘platform’ will be the norm. And when the buzz dies down, attention for brands will turn to the real debate: how to speak the ‘mother tongue’ – consistently and with quality – authentically in every market.